The Hatters’ second match within four days at Edgeley Park saw them earn an inaugural victory of the season, with a single-goal triumph over hitherto-unbeaten Barrow.
Louie Barry’s first goal as a Hatter, midway through the second half, proved the difference between the two teams – propelling County up six places to 16th, as well as gaining Football League points against the ‘Bluebirds’ for the first time in five attempts stretching back over a period of more than half a century.
County took to the field on an afternoon of intermittent sunshine, showing three changes from the starting line-up that faced Bradford City in midweek. Ryan Croasdale made his first start of the campaign following injury, and the Hatters’ Tuesday night goal-scorer, Tanto Olaofe, was also recalled – replacing Connor Evans and Cody Johnson, who were both among the substitutes.
The second-placed visitors, for their part, included among their starters ex-Hatter Courtney Duffus, who had made a National League appearance at Chesterfield towards the end of the 2021/22 title-winning season. Another two players formerly of the SK3 parish – namely, Elliot Newby and Jamie Proctor – were on the bench, although a fourth, Ben Whitfield, who had scored one of Barrow’s three in the corresponding fixture a year earlier, was injured and did not feature in the squad.
The opening exchanges including some attacking moves from each side, albeit without a great deal of noteworthy action in either final third – until the 14th minute, when Olaofe broke through on goal, only to be denied by the legs of goalkeeper Josh Lillis, son of former County striker and one-time caretaker manager, Mark.
Just after the first half’s mid-point, Barrow replaced one former Hatter with another up front, as Proctor was introduced for Duffus, who, following a lengthy spell of treatment, was unable to continue with a facial injury from Kyle Knoyle’s high boot (for which the right-back received the first booking of the afternoon). But the next attack, and an unsuccessful penalty appeal, came from the Hatters – with Barry going to ground in the box under Dean Campbell’s challenge, after being played through by Olaofe.
With a little over half an hour played, Tom White let rip with a curling shot that Ben Hinchliffe caught at the second attempt – and, half a dozen minutes later, after David Worrall’s long throw from the right was initially cleared by Fraser Horsfall, Tyrell Warren headed back in for Sam Foley to execute an overhead kick past County’s left upright.
At the other end, Olaofe was played through on the left, courtesy of a delightful flick from captain Paddy Madden – but Barrow’s own skipper, Niall Canavan, intervened to deflect the ball beyond the near post. And during five minutes of added time – due primarily to the Duffus injury – Proctor struck a low shot from the edge of the box that Hinchliffe dived to smother.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Barrow 0.
Less than a minute following the resumption, County went agonisingly close to opening the scoring, when an angled Madden shot was partially blocked by Lillis and then cleared off the line by George Ray.
Barry and Ryan Rydel then flashed shots from the left just beyond the far post and crossbar, respectively – either side of another effort from White, who drilled wide of the left upright for the Bluebirds, and before one by Junior Tiensia, whose strike flew high into Railway End orbit.
A minute ahead of the hour, Madden headed over after connecting with a cross from the left by Rydel – and, a few minutes later, latched on to Ibou Touray’s delivery on the same flank to glance beyond the far upright.
The game needed a goal – and, on the basis of an improved second-half showing, County deserved one. It duly arrived courtesy of Barry, who, fed by Touray, unleashed a shot from the edge of the box that flew into the bottom-right corner of the net following a deflection.
The Hatters almost doubled their advantage shortly afterwards, after Olaofe headed towards goal from a Madden chip – but Lillis stood firm to parry the attempt away. And Croasdale fired over, having been set up on the edge of the box by Knoyle.
Another five minutes were added on at the end, but the Hatters weathered those in the absence of undue ceremony to celebrate, with no little relief, a return to winning ways, together with a first FL victory against Barrow since their two-goal Fourth Division triumph at EP in early 1971.
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Barry, 66), Barrow 0.
Team (3-4-3): Hinchliffe; Knoyle, Horsfall, Touray; Southam-Hales (Wright, 50), Collar (Crankshaw, 83), Croasdale, Rydel (Byrne, 83); Barry, Madden (Capt.) (Evans, 71), Olaofe.
Unused Subs: Smith, Pye, Johnson.
Booked: Knoyle, Collar.
Man of the Match: Croasdale.
Attendance: 8,364 (532 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.